If you wanted to do book layout (first for hard copy; then e-pub formats) to the level of complexity at the links, what software would you recommend?
http://liztrovato.com/ (to click on three other categories).
You’d probably want Quark, Adobe InDesign, or perhaps LaTeX.
Those are just the tools. Learning the trade of book layout and design, typography, aesthetics, etc. would be a big undertaking. There may be templates and software that automate things now.
There is a Lynda course that might get you started. (Not familiar with it.)
When I read up on this a couple of years ago I remember people in the ebook business swooning over Vellum. Don’t know if it’s still considered the bee’s knees:
iMore put out an intro to iBooks Author and the use of Pages for ebook creation:
Serenity Caldwell, who used to work for MacWorld and then for iMore, and is now at Apple, used to have a side-gig helping authors and small publishers polish their epub files. You might want to google her name for articles she might have written about the subject…
Open Source: Scribus.
Those travel books looks like they have been made using LaTeX. They would most certainly be very possible to do in LaTeX and there are standard templates that are very similar.
I am personally very fond of LaTeX, and use it almost daily. It is probably not harder to learn than any of the other tools but definitely very different. If you have any coding background that is going to help a bit. The advantage of LaTeX is the concistency of the result and the fact that you don’t actually have to know that much about layout unless you are designing your own templates.